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Why We Oppose the Governor’s and Speaker’s Plans for the City

Governor Andrew Cuomo and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson have big plans for the City. Most residents probably haven’t heard about them. There’s been relatively little outreach and little media coverage. The hundreds of candidates running for various offices haven’t had much to say about them either. We continue to have major concerns about both plans.

We’re testifying on Tuesday, February 23rd against Speaker Johnson’s ironically named “Planning Together.” It’s supposed to be a blueprint for comprehensive 10-year planning. It puts a lot of power into a new Mayoral office charged with creating “growth” plans for communities and gives the Council final say on the plans, regardless of community preference. After years of residents asking for more say in how their areas develop, the bill weakens their input. It also continues the trend of pushing more development into “amenity-rich” areas instead of trying to bring amenities to all neighborhoods. It doesn’t change the City’s current review process for development. It adds another layer of bureaucracy.

Draft rendering of Empire Station Complex, a 20-Million-square-foot redevelopment plan for Midtown Manhattan.

We have long advocated for more comprehensive planning. Whatever the good intentions, this bill does not achieve that. Speaker Johnson and a vast majority of his colleagues will be term-limited out in a few months. The periodic loss of a large number of members is a fatal flaw in the ability of the Council to manage long-term planning.

Governor Cuomo’s “Empire Station Complex” – a high-density development plan for the blocks surrounding Penn Station – was, not surprisingly, adopted last week by the Board of the Empire State Development Corporation. With visions of five supertalls of up to 1300 feet and another four major skyscrapers, the plan would dwarf Hudson Yards. If building owners don’t want to sell, the State will use eminent domain and take the property. Blocks of historic buildings will be demolished. Robert Moses would be proud.

The goal is to use revenue from the new development to improve and expand Penn Station. But the proposal still doesn’t detail how that will be accomplished. Everyone agrees Penn Station needs upgrading. Why is urban renewal and out-of-scale development the only way to achieve it?

The Governor’s plan overrules local zoning, including the Speaker’s plan should it pass, and does not require City review. The next State public hearing on the plan is March 23. The Council is expected to vote on the Speaker’s plan in the spring. We will be sending you information on how to voice your opinion on each plan. We’ve had enough top-down planning. It’s time for real community involvement.

Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy

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